New wave of virus sends younger patients to Spanish hospitals

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Updated 24 minutes ago

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Julio Miranda had never felt the threat of the coronavirus too closely. With a date for his first COVID-19 jab scheduled for mid-July, the 48-year-old house painter has been eagerly awaiting, like many in the vaccine-abundant developed world, the end of his personal pandemic worries.

Then a colleague fell ill last month, followed by his boss’s wife. Gradually, all but one of his colleagues found themselves in bed. Miranda, from Chile, also began to experience stomach cramps. Soon he was lying on the couch, struggling to catch his breath.

“It’s only when the virus hits you that you take it much more seriously,” Miranda said this week from a hospital room overlooking Barcelona’s seafront where he recovered after a week of intensive care, conscious but connected to a machine facilitating his oxygen supply.

After a brief respite that has returned medical activity to pre-pandemic routines, officials at the hospital del Mar in this northeastern city are facing a sharp rise in infections as they reorganize work shifts once again staff and moving patients around their sprawling facilities.

The increase comes amid the advance of the delta variant of the coronavirus which spreads more easily. And it’s mostly driven by younger, unvaccinated patients who require less intensive care but are turning to health centers and emergency departments in droves. If they reach the point of needing hospitalization, they usually spend more time in regular wards until they recover.

At this facility, the number of COVID-19 patients increased from 8 to 35 in just two weeks. It is far from the hundreds that the hospital treated at the height of the previous outbreaks. But this is a warning about what could wait unless “drastic measures” are taken against the spread of the virus, according to Juan Pablo Horcajada, who coordinates all COVID-19 activity there.

Although the vast majority of those infected show no symptoms, the speed of the flare-up can only be compared to that of the first flare-up in March 2020, Horcajada said. Most hospital patients do not need much respiratory support and recover sufficiently on corticosteroids. But doctors see people in their 20s and early 30s develop severe pneumonia.

In Spain, young people socialize largely without being vaccinated because the authorities have strictly prioritized the elderly and the most vulnerable groups. As a result, 21 million – half of the country’s adult population – are fully immunized, but fewer than 600,000 of them are under 30, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Health.

“It is still too early to believe that the vaccination will be brought under control any time soon,” Horcajada said, adding that most of his patients had been infected before receiving their second dose of the vaccine.

As a tourist powerhouse, Spain has removed curfews and outdoor mask requirements, among other restrictions, just in time for the summer season. The first major outbreaks were reported soon after, even before many tourists could enter the country.

Many have been linked to early vacation trips, to the unofficial celebrations of traditional summer festivals that are colloquially labeled as “the no-parties”, and to the nightlife that reopened just after schools closed.

For Horcajada, the timings were a recipe for disaster: “We are dealing with a variant which is capable of infecting within seconds after minimal contact with a positive person,” he said.

On Friday, Spain’s closely watched 14-day contagion rate per 100,000 population rose to 316 cases, from a low of 92 in 2021 on June 22. But, unlike previous outbreaks, before vaccines are available, new deaths are declining. and hospital occupancy rates are increasing at a fraction of the rate of new infections.

Spain’s health ministry, for example, reported 6 confirmed deaths nationwide on Friday, the lowest figure since last summer, down from 352 on January 5 this year and 217 on October 19 last year. , two dates when the contagion rate was at similar levels and increasing. More than a tenth of regular hospital beds and a fifth of intensive care units were treating patients with COVID-19 at the time, but the current occupancy rate is 2.4% in regular beds and 6. 6% in intensive care units.

There is a similar pattern in other countries where epidemics spread the fastest in Europe. In Portugal and Cyprus, hospitals are a long way from previous near-collapse scenarios, although they regularly accumulate patients.

The UK has averaged almost 30,000 new infections reported per day over the past week, up from a peak of around 70,000 at the height of January’s winter wave driven by the alpha variant – more contagious than the original virus but significantly less than delta. But daily deaths at the time topped 1,000 for days, while 29 were recorded on Friday.

Spain’s central and regional governments are trying to speed up vaccination of younger groups, but are wary of sweeping measures such as nighttime curfews or travel bans that would affect tourism. France and Germany are already discouraging travel to Spain and neighboring Portugal, a move that has thwarted the tourism industry’s attempt to get back on its feet.

Experts and medical staff are complaining that authorities are sending mixed signals. The northeastern region of Catalonia, for example – where Barcelona is located – does not allow bars and nightclubs to operate their outdoor spaces until this weekend, and yet authorities have authorized a festival of music to unfold with thousands of people. Spectators are required to test negative for antigens before joining the fun.

Ana Aguilar, a 20-year-old nurse at Hospital del Mar, sympathized with those who want to party but said her generation needed to be more patient. As a medical worker, she also expressed frustration with an endless cycle of viral outbreaks.

“When everything seems to restart, the virus comes back. And it’s still the same, “Aguilar said.” It’s very tiring, the uncertainty makes management very difficult. ”

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Parra reported from Madrid.

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Follow all of AP’s stories about the pandemic at https://apnews.com/coronavirus-pandemic


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